Four Reasons Why Your AC Circuit Breaker Keeps Tripping

circuit breaker tripping

Why Does My Air Conditioner’s Circuit Breaker Keep Tripping?

Have you had an issue with your air conditioner lately where the circuit breaker at the main panel keeps tripping?  Have you gone over to the side of the house and tried to flip that breaker back on only to have it flip right back off?  In this blog, I’ll go over what could be going wrong with your AC system when this happens.

It’s not fun to come home and realize that your house, which should be a cool 75 degrees right now, is sitting at a balmy 85 degrees.  So, you go over to the side of your house and open the main electrical panel.  There you find the air conditioner circuit breaker tripped.  This means no high voltage power is getting to your AC to let it run.  Not cool.

You flip the breaker back to the on position only to have it trip again either immediately or after a few minutes or even seconds.  Now what?  So you call your local AC guy.  He comes out the next day.  Now that the system has been sitting idle for several hours, it doesn’t surprise me when the technician who comes over for a $ 100-weekend service call flips the switch on the breaker, and the system starts working again.  Hey! Someone’s got the magic touch!

You pay the smart technician the diagnostic fee, and they head out to their next call.  Meanwhile, after 30 minutes of the system running fine, the breaker trips again.  The technician is long gone, and likely can’t be back to fix it until Monday when they re-open.

How Do You Know What’s Going on with the Circuit Breaker?

If the breaker repeatedly trips after a while, there’s a problem with one of the parts inside the AC.  If the breaker trips immediately after turning it back on, there something going in the wiring.

You can’t just flip the breaker back on and hope it stays that way.  It might! But most likely, there is a reason it tripped, and that problem will come back around.  When this comes up with my technicians at Fox Family, I tell them to slow down and ask themselves, WHY did the breaker trip?  Sure, the breaker reset when you flipped it back on, but a technician finds out why it tripped.

Danger!

I want to reiterate that I’m only giving homeowners and technicians some reasons why the breaker may be tripping.  Working with high voltage can cause severe injury and even death to even the most experienced technicians.  I read about it all the time in the mechanical chat groups I’m in.

Why Do Breakers Trip?

A breaker trips when there is too much power consumption or current at any given time.  The wire from the AC to the panel heats up enough that it trips.  This stops a potentially hazardous situation from happening.  Here are some reasons your AC will cause circuit breaker tripping:

  1. The breaker could be bad
  2. The compressor or fan is drawing too many amps
  3. A short circuit
  4. Refrigerant pressure issues

The Breaker Could Be Bad

This doesn’t happen a lot.  Breakers are sturdy switches that, when heated up enough that they’re repeatedly tripping, can become weaker and trip more easily.  A new breaker can fix this problem.

The Compressor or Fan is Tripping the Circuit Breaker By Drawing Too Many Amps

Although I can’t cover every situation that might happen, I can give you a couple of common scenarios.  If a motor gets stuck and can’t turn over when the proper voltage is applied, the motor will pull a higher number of amps.  So much so that the heat builds up in the wiring and trips the breaker.  This won’t trip the breaker immediately.  But after a while (and there is no specified amount of time), the breaker can trip whenever the thermostat is calling for the AC to be on.

At the start of the cooling season, this pattern often happens with the compressor, that black cylinder at the bottom of your outdoor unit.  It pumps the refrigerant back and forth through the copper lines, much like the heart does in the body.

Assuming the capacitor is good, sometimes adding a hard-start capacitor to the circuit will help give it that boost needed to turn the motor over.  If it does, count your blessings and start saving up for a new compressor or AC unit altogether.  It’s running on borrowed time. It’s just a matter of time before your AC gives out.

A Short Circuit

Another reason for a circuit breaker to trip is because of an electrical short.  When two normally sheathed wires like a hot wire and a neutral wire touch each other when voltage is applied, it causes a major event.

The AC uses 240 volts.  This means the two or three wires leading to your motor carry at least 120 volts.  A third one can carry even more.  If two bare wires touch each other when the system is supposed to be on, a high current situation can occur, causing the breaker to trip.  As soon as the voltage is applied, the breaker will trip immediately.

Touching Wires

Another way the breaker will trip immediately is if one of the motor’s wires touch the inside wall of the compressor.  Remember, these motors have windings inside of them that help spin the motor shaft.  The windings are covered with sheathing to protect the wiring.  But it still happens, especially on older systems that have been running for ten to 20 years or longer.

Check below for a link to my video that talks about how to diagnose a bad compressor.

Refrigerant Pressure Issues

One last reason a compressor could trip the AC breaker is refrigerant pressure.  If the pressure is too high in the system, meaning there is too much refrigerant, the compressor is once again having to strain too hard to do its work.  The breaker won’t trip immediately, but over time.

This scenario doesn’t happen as often as the other events above but can look like a bad compressor. Removing a pound of refrigerant will tell you if it’s a pressure issue because you’ll see both sides of your gauges go down a little.  If this happens and the temperature split stays between 18 and 22 degrees, I would try removing refrigerant until you get the compressor amps to get back down to below the RLA, and the temp split stays within range.

Starting Over

If removing the refrigerant isn’t working as well as you’d like, it might be smart to tell the customer you’d like to remove all the refrigerant and start over with virgin refrigerant and a factory charge.  You don’t know this system’s history, and you’re not expected to, especially if the homeowner doesn’t know it or have invoices showing what previous techs have done to repair the AC in the past. It’s a fair solution for both of you.  If you do this and the compressor is still pulling high amps, and you’ve checked everything else on the system, you have a bad compressor.

Summary

These are just a few reasons why the circuit breaker in your home could trip the breaker in the main electrical panel.  If it trips immediately after turning it back on, you likely have a problem in the wiring.  If your breaker trips after a certain amount of time, something is going on with a part in the AC system.

Let a Professional Do the Fixing

I can’t tell you anybody can fix these problems by themselves.  In fact, you might not even be able to order the parts you need as it takes a licensed contractor to purchase them from a local distributor.  Let a professional come out and diagnose the exact problem and then fix the system so you can have peace of mind.

Thanks so much for stopping by and we’ll see you next time.

Don’t miss my videos about or related to this topic:

How I Add Refrigerant to a Central Air Conditioner

How I add refrigerant

How I add refrigerant

Hey HVAC techs! I’m Greg Fox, and today we’re going to talk about adding more refrigerant to an air conditioner.  I wanted to expand on our recent AC troubleshooting series by going into each part of its sequence of operations.  This week, it’s the refrigerant.

Now, I’m not going to get into the legalities and moral issues here of refilling refrigerant on a system that is leaking, but you should know a few things:

  • Refrigerant is expensive for the customer – If you have to keep refilling their refrigerant, which we do not know how often that will be, it can add up quickly.
  • They know their air conditioner better than us.  If we’ve never been to their home to refill their refrigerant before, there’s no reference for knowing how BIG their refrigerant leak is or WHERE the leak is.
  • The customer could lose all of their refrigerant tomorrow if they have a significant leak… or if it is a small leak, the refrigerant could last them all year or longer.   

Let’s go over some basics to charging an air conditioner on your average 90-degree day in the middle of summer.  Upon arrival at the house, your customer tells you the air conditioner worked just fine last year, but this year the system seems to run non-stop, especially as the summer days get hotter and hotter.  You ask the customer, “Have any other technicians been out to make repairs on your system since last year?” It’s very likely the customer will say no.  

There’s a lot of things that can affect the refrigerant charge.  Just remember, for the sake of time, we’re keeping this dialogue short, so we can get to the point of charging the system up.  

I like what Bryan Orr mentioned in an article I read.  He said,

“We need to set up equipment so that it won’t freeze during normal operating conditions.   At the very least, the typical residential A/C system should be set up so that the return air temp can get all the way down to 68° and still be just above freezing at the evaporator coil.

Let’s say it’s 78° in a house on an R410a system, and your suction pressure is 108 PSI.  That means your suction saturation (coil temperature) is 35°… so the coil won’t freeze.

However, the coil temperature will drop approximately 1° for every degree the return temperature drops. 

Remember, at 78° inside, the evap coil was at 35°, So if the customer sets it down to 74°, the saturation would get down to 31°, and the will start to freeze.

Knowing this, let’s grab your temperature probe and check the return air and the supply air.  Here you notice the difference between the two is about 8 degrees.  As a tech, you know the split should be around 18 to 22 degrees.  

Next, you head outside and feel the suction line to see if it’s cold. Now, there is some validity to the old term, “beer can cold” but it should not be the measure you go by to check the refrigerant charge. It can, however, give you a clue as to the condition of the system.  In this case, the suction line at the AC is barely cold.  Now, I’m not always a huge proponent of hooking my gauges up to a system every time I go out to diagnose a system, but in this case, we can tell something’s not right with the cooling system, so in this case, I want to see what is going on inside of it.

Hook your hoses up to the liquid and suction lines.  Be careful of blowback so you don’t freeze your hands.  Follow all safety precautions. 

Now, what do you see on your suction side?  I like my techs to talk to me about the evaporator coil’s TEMPERATURE and the TEMPERATURE of the condenser coil.  When I’m on the phone trying to help a tech out in the field, it’s hard for me to remember all the pressure-temperature ratios between the different refrigerants we use. 

So if someone tells me the evaporator coil is 40 degrees, I can immediately tell the coil is not freezing.  If someone tells me the temperature of the condenser coil is 140 degrees, I can immediately translate that to an outdoor coil that is under some seriously high pressure.

On the refrigerant gauge, the outer circle and those numbers are the pressures.  The inner rings of numbers reflect the temperature.  This is how I want my techs to communicate pressures to each other. It’s more efficient this way.  Most gauges these days have a green ring for R22 and a pink ring for R410.  The pink ring’s numbers are what we are using for evap and condenser coil temperatures on a 410 system.

Here we see that the evaporator coil is at about 20° F.  For proper refrigerant levels, the image I want you to project in your mind is this.  Our end-goal here is to have liquid refrigerant reach all the way to the TXV at the evaporator coil to meter the refrigerant appropriately.  Right now, there’s not enough liquid in the system to do that.  This means vapor is making its way to the metering device, and we’re not giving the coil enough refrigerant to interact with the speed of the blower air moving across it.

We need the perfect balance of airflow and refrigerant pressures to create that 18 to 22-degree temperature split we are looking for.

Let’s suppose this system holds 10lbs or R-410a.  In my mind, I’m thinking the system is about halfway charged. It’s an approximation, but we have to let the customer know about how many pounds we want to add, so they give you the okay to move forward.  Of course, you don’t know for sure, but they should be aware it could be around 5 lbs, and that will cost (whatever, $100 a pound). We need to let them know it could be a couple of pounds more or a couple of pounds less, but either way, we need permission to move forward.

Using a scale is the only way we can know for sure how many pounds of refrigerant we are adding. And it’s cool to let the customer know you’ll be using this too. It’s reassuring to them. This is great for preventing you from overcharging the system too.

My service hoses are already hooked up.  I’m going to start by putting my charging hose on the tank of refrigerant.  Next, I open the refrigerant tank valve and place it upside down on the scale. With the gauges closed on the manifold, I crack open the connection where the charging hose meets the manifold.  Not too much, though.  We just want the refrigerant to prime itself up to that point so we get rid of excess moisture and air in the hoses.

Reset the scale back to zero, so we know how much we are adding as the refrigerant enters the system.

I recommend you put an amp clamp on one of the wires leading to the compressor.  If you’ve seen my video on diagnosing a bad compressor, you know that the compressor’s amp draw correlates with the refrigerant pressures inside the system.  The healthiest compressors will run at around 60 percent of their RLA.  When you’re charging up the system, you’ll see the amp draws fluctuate as the refrigerant goes in and settles down.  Use your knowledge about the compressor amp draws to monitor your charging process.

Okay! We’re ready to charge!  With the charging hose valve open, we’ll start opening the suction side valve.  A quarter to half of a turn is enough.  There is no approximate amount of time it’ll take to insert 1 lb. of refrigerant.  Each situation is different.  To know for sure, use your scale.  

In this situation where we think the system is about 4 or 5 lbs low, let about 2 lbs flow into the system and wait for 5 to 10 minutes for the system to equalize.  Question.  How long does it take for the refrigerant to cycle through a typical residential split system? I’d say about 3 or 4 minutes.  If you have a different answer, let me know in the comments.

So we see now the low side has come up to about 27 degrees or 92 psi.  Our evaporator coil is still freezing.  Let’s add two more pounds and wait.  I know there’s a lot of pressure on techs to get their calls done quickly so they can get to the next one, but it’s essential to let the system stabilize before adding more refrigerant.  If you add too much, too soon, you could see the pressures skyrocket insanely fast.  And now you have to recover some refrigerant into a separate tank which takes even more time!

Now we are getting close to 32 degrees or about 100 psi on the suction side.  From here, we want to start dialing our subcool to whatever it is the manufacturer recommends.  This system says 10 degrees subcooling on a 95-degree day.  Let’s get a temperature probe on the liquid line and start getting our reading from it. We’re going to be subtracting the high side’s temperature and the liquid line’s temperature to come up with our subcooling.  

Add refrigerant a little at a time until the difference between those two numbers is 10 degrees. There’s nothing tricky about this.  Just don’t add too much too fast.  Add refrigerant and wait for the numbers to stabilize. 

You’re going to be looking for the low side pressure to be around 40 to 42 degrees or 125 psi.  The high side pressure/temperature will likely settle around 15 degrees above the outdoor temperature.  So on a 90-degree day, you may end up with a high side temperature around 105 degrees.  If you can get your numbers around this area, you’re close!  But let’s really get it dialed in.  Get that subcool to 10, plus or minus 2 degrees.

I will tell you; it takes longer to move the needle on your gauges when there’s less refrigerant in the system.  As the system starts getting close to the proper subcool, you’ll want to finesse the time you keep the manifold open, allowing refrigerant into the system.  Overcharging can happen quickly, especially on a hot day.  

Getting close to your 10 degrees subcool?  Cool!

Once you get it to this point, check your temperature split inside.  Is it around 18 to 22 degrees?  Great! You’ll notice the liquid line is a little bit warmer than the outdoor temperature.  Also, the suction line will be damn near “beer can cold!”

Test the system while it’s running.  Get your amp draws on the condenser fan motor and compressor.  Cycle the system on and off at the thermostat to make sure the system is operating correctly.  If it is, you’re good to go.

Well, I hope this has helped you when it comes to the charging process.  I make my videos for my technicians to reference when they are in a bind out in the field.  But if this can help anyone else, that’s great.

Thanks so much for reading, and we’ll see you on the next blog.

https://youtu.be/plTCLJF_zQk
 
 

How Moisture in the Refrigerant Lines Damages Compressors

How Moisture in the Refrigerant Lines Damages Compressors

Anytime technicians cut open the refrigerant lines to the air conditioning or heat pump system, we have to ensure the interior of those lines doesn’t get debris and other contaminants in them.  We can’t prevent air and moisture from getting in them, which is why we need to evacuate systems thoroughly.  If we don’t, a form of acid will develop inside the compressor and eat away at the protective lining that surrounds the copper stator windings.

Not only will the acid wear out the windings, but it can tear away the copper lining of the tubing itself.  That copper will land on the bearings or other components in the refrigeration circuit.  Other examples would be the TXV or other metering devices.  Once this starts, friction starts building up, causing the compressor to work harder to do the same work.  Over time, the friction builds up so much the compressor seizes or burns out. 
 

 

Moisture and POE Oil

 

R-410A systems use Polyol ester oil (POE Oil) which is a hygroscopic oil. POE oil retains water in the air a lot more than the mineral oil (R22) systems.  That’s why we have to evacuate the system of as much moisture as possible.  Technically, we’re not supposed to leave the lines open for more than 15 minutes.  That’s hard to do when replacing a major component like a compressor or evaporator coil.  If exposed long enough, it’s best to replace the compressor oil to the levels printed on the data label on the side of the compressor.   This is because no matter how long we have the unit on a vacuum, that moisture will never be removed from the compressor oil.

 

When a system is flat on charge, meaning there is no refrigerant left in the system because it all leaked out,   it can be assumed that air is now in the system.  There’s no vacuum left in the lines, so the leak needs to be repaired and then evacuated to 500 microns or less again to get it back to normal.  Does this mean if the system is flat, the lines have been open longer than 15 minutes?  I would assume so.  Should we change the oil in the compressor?  I guess so.  Do any techs do it?  Probably not.

 

 

Filter driers catch remaining moisture

 

Because it’s so hard to get all the moisture in the lines evacuated, we always install a filter drier.  A good filter drier has desiccants inside it that will absorb residual moisture in the lines as it flows through the system.  Even then, only so much moisture can be absorbed by a filter drier.  A clogged filter drier will start restricting the normal refrigerant flow and even cause flash gas causing abnormal operation.  You can tell if a filter drier is clogged by measuring the temperature of the liquid line before and after the filter drier.  If the difference is 3 degrees or more, changed the filter with a new and properly sized one.

 

It’s so important for technicians to ensure there is no moisture from the atmosphere left in the lines when we turn the system on.  There are tools, components, and procedures to help with this. If we don’t do it right, we are only doing a disservice to the customer because the electrical and mechanical parts of the AC system will eat away from acid that forms inside of it.  

 

Professional, knowledgeable service is essential when it comes to the air conditioner.  Don’t just call anyone out to service your system.  Call Fox Family or even book online  at the top of the page.

That’s it for this week.  Check us out on the next blog!

This is How to Successfully Troubleshoot an AC Unit

how to troubleshoot an AC unit

Breaking Down the Parts of a Air Conditioning System

Technicians just starting in the field have many questions about the process required to troubleshoot an AC unit.  In this series, I’ll break down the major parts of an AC system. But first, let’s go through a simple service call to figure out why the AC in question is not working.  Then we can get into more details in this series once we know what’s going on.

To successfully troubleshoot an AC unit, let’s start at the thermostat and go all the way to the outdoor unit turning on and the blower turning on, forcing air into the rooms of your house.

The Thermostat

When your house reaches a point where the AC needs to come on, a series of components work in a specific order to produce cold air.  So, go ahead and turn on the air conditioner.  Set the temperature down below what the temperature of the room is now.

Taking this step will make two switches inside the thermostat close:  the Y and the G terminal.  Y is for cooling – it turns on the outdoor unit, and G is for the air handler’s blower fan.

At this point, I always check the filter to make sure it’s clean.  Without a clean filter, your system can’t breathe in, so it won’t be able to breathe out, sending air into the house.

The Air Handler

Let’s go to the air handler first and see what’s going on there.

At the air handler or furnace, the control board is what’s calling the shots.  It receives the signal from the thermostat for Y and G to energize the terminal block.  If you put your meter leads on the C and Y terminals, you’ll get 24 volts.  Between C and G, you’ll get the same.

G is going to send the signal to the relay switch on that same board.  The closed switch tells the blower motor to come on.  It allows the 120 volts from the correct blower tap to start turning the blower wheel.  The blower motor on these units will have a capacitor on it. See my video below outlining the steps to test it.  On models made after 2019, blower motors became a little more advanced and energy-efficient.  Digitally commutated motors like this don’t use a capacitor.

The only other thing going on up at the air handler is the cold evaporator coil has refrigerant moving through it. There’s a metering device at the coil, but we’ll address that in another segment in this series.

Some furnace and coil combos have a condensate safety switch wired into the control board.  The air conditioner creates condensation that drains out to the side of the house. This switch provides a safety device that stops the air conditioner from producing any more condensation should the drain clog up.  See my video on this topic as well, below.

The Air Conditioner

Now let’s get out of this hot attic and head out to the air conditioner!  Technicians must be safety conscious at the AC.  Two hundred forty volts flowing through your body is no fun but regularly happens to people who aren’t qualified to work on it.

Let’s see what should be happening at the air conditioner when you take the panel off.  That Y signal from the air handler connects to the contactor, which pulls in, allowing the 240 volts from the house onto the compressor and condenser fan motor.  The compressor will pump the refrigerant to and from the outdoor coil and the indoor cold coil we talked about earlier.  The condenser fan motor keeps the outdoor unit cool by sending the heat from inside the house out of the AC unit’s top.

From here, the AC will provide about 18 to 22 degrees cooler air than is going into the return side of the system.  If it’s not and the air is reaching that temp split, you may need to check the refrigerant charge and start doing some more in-depth troubleshooting of the compressor and more, which is just what this series will explore.

Troubleshoot an AC Unit: Improving Your Skill Set

As a new technician, you don’t have to be intimidated by all kinds of moving parts and thermodynamics.  Yes, when you get down to the details about it, you’ll need to have a greater skill set, which means more training – and hopefully, this series will provide that for you.

Thanks so much for stopping by, and we’ll see you at the next blog post!

Don’t miss our videos related to this topic:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=glFsL73YmNU&t=7s
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n-xOiDVhyFk
 

Is R-22 (Freon) Illegal to Use in My Air Conditioner After 2020?

R-22 (freon)

Using R-22 (freon) Refrigerant in the Sacramento Valley

“I was told by my HVAC technician that we had to replace our AC system because R-22 was illegal to use starting in 2020.”  Every day, people are being straight-up lied to in their homes by either super salesy technicians trying to pad their pockets with commissions, or new technicians who don’t know the real truth about the phase-out of R-22 (ca freon).  Stayed tuned and I’ll tell you more!

Is R-22 Refrigerant Really Going to Be Illegal?

“You’ll have to replace your system ma’am because R-22 will be illegal starting in 2020.”

“I’m sorry sir, your air conditioner is leaking refrigerant, and it would be illegal for us to refill it with R-22.  You’re going to have to replace your system.”

This is the stuff that gives the HVAC industry a bad name, and I just want you to know that nothing could be further from the truth.

Relying on Expertise

There are things about my car that I have no idea about.  And when I take it to the mechanic, they tell me a part on my car is broken and needs to be fixed, and I pretty much just go along with it because I have no idea what they are talking about when it comes to repairing cars.  If that mechanic wanted to deceive me and rack up a huge bill, they could very easily do so because they know a lot more about that car than I do.

It’s very similar with HVAC.  We, as mechanics of your AC system, probably know more about it than you do, and it would be pretty easy for someone to only give you some of the truth, or just straight-up deceive you, coercing you to pay out big bucks for a new air conditioning system when you really don’t need to yet.

I just went to a home here in Rancho Cordova that is only 10 years old.  So his air conditioning system is 10 years old.  They’ve had two companies come out and tell him since his system is leaking ac freon refrigerant it would be illegal starting in 2020 to make repairs on it even saying they could be reported to the EPA and fined, or lose their license.  They went on to say that the system was past its normal life span anyway and he should think about getting a new system.

Wow!  That’s some seriously conniving salesmanship right there.  It sounds more like a salesperson than a real HVAC technician.  Just because someone is dressed up in an outfit with the stereotypical button-up, collared shirt with an American flag on the arm doesn’t make them a technician.

Let’s Be Real 

At what point does a $10,000-dollar system need to be changed out, every 10 years, or even 12 years?  HVAC systems can be repaired as long as the owner of that system wants to keep it.  If the parts are available, we can repair your system as needed.

If you’ve watched any of my videos or read this blog, you know my home’s basic, old, contractor-grade air conditioner’s compressor went out after 11 years.  I didn’t even remotely think about changing this system out.

Why?  Because your central air conditioning system was designed to last about 20 years.  You can read more about this topic here.  Maybe even more if you really wanted to hold onto it.  Like some of you, I’ve taken very good care of my AC system.  I’ve done the maintenance on it for several years.  So, my system is very clean and still runs great even though I had that one major repair when the system was 11.  That system is 21 years old now, and even though I’ve had to replace a small part here and there, the system has worked great for the last 10 years.

Now that the system has reached that 20-year mark, honestly, I am looking to replace it with a new system.

R-22 Phaseout

But let’s get back to the phaseout of R-22.

Yes R-22 (freon) is being phased out.  It’s been slowly phasing out since the Montreal Protocol of 1987.  This was one of the first internationally organized efforts to stop the production of ozone-depleting substances like Freon R-22 from eating away at the stratospheric ozone layer.

We as technicians can’t continue to just keep going back to the same house year after year and refill the system with R-22.  That would be negligent.  So, it’s very important to find and repair the leak so the tubing the refrigerant travels though stays sealed.  That way there won’t be any more leaks or expensive fill-ups to get your system cooling.

That’s why the U.S. has agreed to phase it out of production because of its damaging effect on the ozone layer.  And it’s working!  According to atmospheric chemist Paul Newman, “Ozone levels are projected to return to the levels they were in 1980, by 2032.”

Here’s the truth

In 2020, R-22 refrigerant can’t be PRODUCED anymore.  But there’s still some quantity of it sitting around in warehouses waiting to be sold.  I have no idea how much.  But even after that runs out, there will still be recycled R-22 that we can use.  You see, we as technicians are mandated by the government to recover the refrigerant we take out of systems and hand it over to certain entities so they can clean it up and use it again as recycled R-22.

What’s Supposed to Happen

We use a company called Rapid Recovery here in Sacramento.  They come out to our shop and take the little tanks of R-22 we’ve recovered from systems around town and transfer them into larger holding tanks until it can go through the cleaning process.  This is supposed to be happening all across America and other parts of the world who participate in the Montreal Protocol.  Some companies do it, some don’t.

I used to work with a technician who was a private contractor over in Iraq during the conflicts over there.  They were there to keep the troops cool in their large tents.  He went on to admit he saw technicians just letting that old R-22 spray off into the air like it was nothing.  Literally pounds of it at a time.  Now that’s a shame.

Have you ever heard of a technician purposely letting freon into the atmosphere?  In order to create awareness about this bad practice, leave a comment below and tell us about it.

R-22 Refrigerant Alternatives

There’s no doubt as R-22 (freon) becomes scarcer, the price of it will skyrocket.  But there is relief.  You should know there are alternative refrigerants like R-407c, R-422b, and others.  These refrigerants operate near the same pressures as R-22, but don’t have all the chlorine in it that ruins the ozone layer.  And they cost half the price of R-22.

So, it will absolutely not be illegal for your EPA certified technician to buy R-22 and refill your system with it.  It will not be illegal to make repairs to your system just because it has R-22 in it.

Your Choice

Be aware that there are alternatives we can use.  You can freely make the decision to either repair or replace your system as you see fit.  It’s not for your technician to decide.  Please don’t ever let a technician tell you that you have to replace your system.  It’s not true.  Once again, as long as the parts are available to repair your system, it can be repaired.  There are refrigerants that can help you get your older R-22 system cooling again.

Summary

I really hope you have a clearer understanding of R-22 and the phase-out of it.  Just think of like this.  If R-22 Freon is used in your air conditioner, you’re grandfathered in.  No one can take that away from you.

Please leave me a comment down below if this is something you’ve encountered.  Has a company in your area told you they can’t service your equipment anymore because it uses R-22?

Thanks so much for stopping by, and we’ll see you on the next blog post.

Don’t miss our video on this topic:

Should I Hook Up My AC Manifold Gauges at Every Service Call?

Should You Hook Up Your Manifold Gauges Every Time?

Maintaining the Integrity of Your Sacramento Valley AC System

As a technician starting out in this field, I was told by the company trainer to hook up the hoses to my manifold gauges every time I’m out on an AC service call.  Much like a doctor who wears a stethoscope around his neck, hooking my gauges up meant we were the professionals; and when I bring the customer out to the AC to discuss recommendations or repairs, they would see I was the one with all the knowledge.  Was my trainer onto something, or was this just another effort to blow smoke up the customers rear and make him fall for that company’s high-pressure antics?

If this is your first time reading our blog, be sure to check out our library of blog topics on a wide variety of topics useful for both customers and technicians.

Manifold Gauges: How They Work

Every residential air conditioner has a service valve used by technicians to connect to and read the pressures of the system’s refrigerant. Those service valves have a Schrader core (That’s Schrader Core) that gets depressed when the technician’s manifold hoses attach to the service valve.  It’s just like a valve stem on your bicycle tire.

When the core gets pressed in, the refrigerant is allowed into the technician’s manifold so the pressure can be read on the gauges.  It takes an experienced technician to interpret those readings to accurately determine what’s going on with the refrigerant pressures in the system.  Simply put, we can see the temperature of the evaporator coil, the condenser coil, and can determine the superheat and subcooling levels for that system.

Getting an Accurate Manifold Gauge Assessment

But do technicians need to hook up every time they go out on preventative maintenance or a service call?  Does it mean we didn’t give a full and comprehensive diagnostic if we don’t?  No!  Most technicians will walk up to a system and assess how the system is running by doing a couple of things.  First, have you asked the customer how their system is running?  If not, that’s valuable information to get.  If the system has been running great according to the customer, there may not be any reason to hook up the gauges.

Steps for Technicians

Let’s say you’ve asked the customer how the system has been performing.  They report that the system’s been running fine.  They just wanted to call you out for a pre-season tune-up, like the ones we offer at Fox Family for just $75.  Have you checked the temperature split to see if the system is blowing nice cold air?  That would be more input that should sway a technician from hooking up their gauges.

I know it’s a little cliché but checking the temperature of the suction line can further indicate that you wouldn’t need to hook up your gauges to the AC system.  The liquid line should be a few degrees warmer than the outside temperature, too.  So, making some initial checks like this can make someone comfortable about not hooking up their gauges to the system.

Why don’t I think you should hook up your gauges so much?  Hooking up your gauges can do several things to actually harm the performance of the system over the long run.  Maybe not today, but the overall lifespan of the system can be affected.

Contamination

I feel that hooking up gauges from one system to the next contaminates the next system you hook up to.  Taking a little bit of refrigerant from one system, going to the other side of town and putting your gauges on that system has now introduced a trace of contaminants that system has never seen before.  Moisture and air from one system can easily be transferred to another system.

This is definitely true if your no loss fittings or ball valve fittings on your hoses retain the R22 freon in one system and then get hooked up to that one on the other side of town that is an R410a system.   A technician doing this will literally create a new mixture, a new refrigerant even.  Done enough times, it will throw off the system readings enough that not even the most experienced techs can get the true pressures inside that system.  Eventually, a future technician will recommend removing all the refrigerant and starting over with a new manufacturer’s charge of refrigerant.

Avoiding Burns

Another reason is to reduce the chances of exposing yourself to refrigerant burns.  In the unlikely event that you find a burr in the threading of the service valve and get it stuck it could create a situation where the refrigerant starts shooting out of the hoses.  Some techs will persist in trying to get the hose off and burn themselves.  The risk is small, but but tell that to the techs who have ended up with huge blisters on their hands trying to play hero and losing time off work.  Further impacting their paychecks and livelihood is a serious consideration.

Unintended Loosening

My last reason to think twice about hooking up gauges to every AC system is about the Schrader core.  It can be loosened, creating a tiny leak.  The Schrader core is threaded into the service valve.  And while you’re screwing the new core into the valve which way are you tightening it?  Righty tighty.  Lefty loosey.  Taking off your hoses in the normal counterclockwise direction mimics the same direction it takes to unscrew the Schrader core.

Case in Point

Several times this year I’ve gone out on a service call for no cooling.  The client reports that the system only blows room temperature air.  They’ve have been having maintenance done by a local company every spring and fall. Upon inspection, I saw there was no temp split from the registers.  And the suction line at the AC was warm to the touch.  I unscrewed the service valve cap to attach my hoses.  There, I saw some liquid refrigerant spewing out of where the valve core sits.  I think I’ve found the problem.

Put another way, I’ll quote a recent story in ACHR News:

“There is no reason to ever put gauges on an air conditioning or refrigeration system after the initial installation unless a problem with the mechanical refrigeration circuit is suspected.  Using a psychrometric chart, digital thermometer, digital humidity stick, and an accurate method to calculate airflow can replace having to apply your manifold gauges anytime.”

Increasing Equipment Life

Remember, these systems should contain only virgin refrigerant.  Spending less time putting on and taking off our refrigerant hoses saves more than time.  It increases equipment life, maintains performance, and reduces refrigerant emissions into the atmosphere.

Remember, I was told by the company trainer to hook up my manifold gauges on every AC service call.  He said it would make me look like the doctor who wears a stethoscope around his neck.  Customers supposedly expect to see those hoses hooked up, and if they weren’t, they might think something wasn’t right.  The trainer wasn’t worried about the integrity of the customer’s AC system.  And certainly not the integrity of his company’s high-pressure sales antics.

Your Turn

As always, I appreciate you all for reading our blog posts here at Fox Family in Sacramento.  I would love to hear your comments as technicians out in the field.  How does your company practice service and maintenance calls and hooking up your gauges every time you get called out?

Thanks so much for stopping by and we’ll see you on the next blog topic!

How I Troubleshoot a PSC Condenser Fan Motor on an Air Conditioner

Condenser fan motor

Condenser fan motors come in a couple of forms.  PSC style and ECM style.  PSC motors are easily identified by the run capacitor that comes inside the service panel with them.  ECM motors are electronically commutated motors run on their own power.  Today we’re talking about the PSC condenser fan motor which you’ll find on a lot of the basic 10 to 14 SEER single-stage systems out there. 

There are only a few things that can go wrong with your typical PSC motor.  Voltage from the panel isn’t sufficient, the contactor is bad, the capacitor is bad, or damaged parts inside the condenser fan motor.

Why Is The AC Making A High Pitched Noise?

I’ve gotten this call before.  The customer says the outdoor unit is making a very pitched noise.  Louder than they’ve ever heard!  When you get to the house and turn on the AC, you walk up on the outdoor AC unit and find that the compressor is pumping the refrigerant, but the fan on top is not spinning.

What’s happening here is the condenser fan blade isn’t spinning which normally removes the heat from the outdoor unit.  If it doesn’t, the compressor will overheat and shut down, but not before putting up a screaming hissy-fit.  After that, the internal overload switch on the compressor opens.  It takes about 45 minutes or so to cool back down, and then retry running again.  Heats up, shuts down, cools off, restarts, and over and over.

In this case, you likely have good voltage to the system but just to be sure make sure you have about 240 volts to the load side of the contactor while it’s running.  This lets you know the line voltage is good and the contactor is good in one quick test with your multimeter.

You only have so much time to do this before the compressor shuts down, but next, I usually take a stick or something and try spinning the fan blade with it.  If the fan starts spinning after giving it a little nudge, I’d check the capacitor next.  That capacitor is what helps it start and run efficiently.

If the capacitor checks out good, then you know you have proper voltage getting to the motor, so the condenser fan motor is bad.

If the fan blade doesn’t keep spinning after you nudge it, the capacitor could be good, but still, check it.  If it’s good, the condenser fan motor is bad.

Checking The Condenser Fan

I’ve seen this happen when a big windstorm hit an area recently and knocked some branches down into the top of the AC.  The shroud on top usually does a great job of protecting the fan blade, but in this instance, a stick wedged itself in there and caused the motor to burn out.

Another reason this can happen, especially on universal replacements is the inside of the motor got wet.  These motors come with rubber plugs sometimes.  These plugs have to be placed on the top side of a downward mounted fan, and in the bottom of an upward facing motor.  The ports on the opposite sides should remain open, so that any moisture that does get into it, can drain out.  Happens all the time!

I would say check the fan motor for a short to ground, but the main breaker or service disconnect fuses would have usually tripped by now.  So let’s check the motor windings first to see if we have an open or damaged winding.

Take the wires off the contactor and the capacitor that leads to the fan motor.  Refer to your wiring diagram that comes with the AC and check your ohms (resistance) between Common (Purple or C on the capacitor) and Start (Usually Brown but was attached to Fan on the capacitor.)  You should read a fairly low amount of resistance here.  If you read OL on your meter, then you have an open Start winding

Common and Run (Black, or the only wire that’s coming from the contactor to the fan motor.)  You’ll likely measure a lower amount of resistance here.  If it’s OL, then you have an open Run winding.

If you have an OL on both of the motor’s windings, the motor’s internal overload switch could be open.  If you allow time for it to cool down, and it still wont run, replace the condenser fan motor.

Just in case you do have good windings, let’s double check to make sure the motor isn’t shorted to ground.  You can check with your ohm meter, but I usually just use the continuity setting on my meter.  Check between the frame of the motor and each winding.  Common, Start, and Run.  Make sure you’re not using a painted surface for the frame.  You want to use a metallic base for this test.

Condenser motor

If you have continuity between any of these and the frame of the motor, replace the condenser fan motor.

Well, I hope this helps you troubleshoot your next condenser fan motor.  This is one of the easier components to check.

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Thanks so much for reading and we’ll see you on the next blog.

How cold can my air conditioning get my house in the summer?

How cold can my house get?

 

HVAC companies like ours startup because we are passionate about helping people when it gets hot (or cold) outside.  We honestly want to get you comfortable as soon as your AC breaks down.  Some people want their home to feel like a meat locker, but the reality is your system can only get your home so cool.

Your system is designed to cool your house 18 to 22 degrees less than the temperature of the house at any given time.  Meaning, if your house is currently 80 degrees, the temperature of the air coming out of your registers should be 62 to 58 degrees.  As the temperature of the house comes down to your desired 72 degrees, the temps coming from the supply registers will be 54 to 50 degrees.  

Your house can get cooler than that. Most of the time, I sleep with the temperature in my bedroom at 68 degrees.  I can only do that if I strategically set my thermostat not to let my house get too warm during the day.  If you let your house get to warm, say 85 to 90 degrees, before turning your system on, your AC will struggle to bring the temps in your home to 72 degrees or less.  

A system is designed to cool your house one or two degrees every 15 minutes.  But if it’s super-hot in your home, the walls are going to be warm, the furniture is warm, and the ceiling is warm.  All the items in your house will need to cool down before you’re going to start feeling comfortable again.  So if it’s 90 degrees in your home before you decide to turn your AC on, it may have to run all through the night, even into the following day to get you there, depending on the age of your HVAC system.

So, the answer to the question is about 72 degrees.  75 is reasonable for every home, but some systems are old and inefficient.  Some systems aren’t sized large enough for that particular home.  Every house is different. Some systems might be low on refrigerant.  It could be a variety of things.  

One thing is for sure though, if you live in the Sacramento area, Fox Family Heating & Air will be able to get your home nice and cool no matter what’s going on with your AC.  Feel free to schedule an appointment with us at (916) 877-1577 or online at www.foxfamilyhvac.com

11 Ways to Avoid Hot and Cold Spots in Your Home

Delivering the right amount of air to each room at the same time is key to being comfortable.  And not just in one or two rooms.  A properly set up HVAC system will comfort your whole home or business simultaneously.

Of course, the goal is to have the same even temperatures throughout each room so when you walk through your house, you don’t feel warmer in one room than another.  Today at Fox Family Heating and Air, we’re taking a look at 11 ways to avoid hot and cold spots in your Sacramento Valley home or business.

1. Is your system sized correctly?

First and foremost, is your system sized correctly?  This means the original installer of the system did a proper load calculation of your home.  If they didn’t, then it’s not pushing enough air to your rooms regardless of whether the rest of our checklist is perfect.

2. Return air and supply air unity

Having the right amount of return air to supply air unity means you’ll be delivering the same amount of air out of your system as you are bringing to the system.  You have a return air grille or stand where your filter goes.  That’s where the system draws its air in.  On the other side of that air handler, the system supplies your conditioned air.  Systems are designed to supply about 400 to 500 cfms of air per ton.  But if your system is breathing in enough air from the return, how is it going to supply enough air to keep your home evenly comforted?

3. Adding returns will mix hot and cold air

This brings me to the option of adding more returns to strategic rooms around your house.  That return air grille in the main hallway doesn’t have to be the only return in the home or office.  For example, master bedrooms in newer homes have a return air grille installed in them.  This mixes the air in the room so warm air in the summer gets removed from the room, while colder supply air is being delivered into the room.  You’ll really notice a difference by adding a return to these pesky rooms that are warmer or cooler than others, depending on the season.

4. Closing air registers will force hot and cold air elsewhere

Not one of my favorites, but some folks will start closing down their adjustable supply registers in various room that get too much air.  They’re hoping to force the air somewhere else in the house that isn’t getting enough air.  The only thing I don’t like about this is that those registers that you start shutting down can do a couple things.  One is really annoying and the other can actually shorten the lifespan of the system.  Closing down “strategic” registers in the home or office can make those registers start whizzing.  This makes it louder in that room because we are creating a restriction that speeds up the airflow as it leaves the supply register.

The other reason has to do with the static pressure of the system.  Much like blood flow in the body, we wouldn’t want to pinch a blood vessel in hopes to deliver more blood elsewhere right, this could cause big problems with the body.  The same goes for aerodynamics in your ductwork.

5. Change those filters to eliminate hot and cold spots

Changing your filters quarterly will not only help keep your system clean, but it will allow airflow into the system.  If the filter gets too dirty, you’re creating a restriction if the system can’t breathe in properly, it won’t be able to breathe out the appropriate amount of air.  It’s like breathing in through a straw and exhaling out of your open mouth.  Eventually you’re going to hyperventilate.  So, let’s keep those passages open so the HVAC system can eliminate hot and cold spots in your home or office.

6. Keep Heat at Bay with Window Coverings

The sun’s radiant energy can warm up a room quickly.  A room with sun-drenched walls or windows allow this heat into those rooms and will warm up more quickly.  Installing window coverings will keep this radiant heat at bay.  These come in the form of screens or tinting that can be attached to the outside of windows, or curtains and blinds affixed to the inside of the windows.  Either way you choose, you’re going to enjoy having a more comfortable room if you can reduce the chance of that heat coming in this way.

7. Electronics in Rooms will Increase Warmth

It’s so popular now to have gaming systems or high-tech computer systems in a room or office.  The heat these devices put out is enough to warm up a room, making it less comfortable than other rooms in your house.  Adding more supply air by using a larger duct will help to deliver more air to that room.  Just like I mentioned above, a better solution may be adding a return to this room as it will remove the warm air while cold air is being supplied to the room.  This will make your room more comfortable, faster.

8. Ceiling Fans will Mix Hot and Cold Air

Another way to mix the air in your room is to turn on that ceiling fan.  When it’s hot outside, have the fan blowing straight down towards the floor.  The warmer it is, the higher the fan speed should be.  Conversely, in the wintertime, turn the fan so it blows upwards.  Both ways will mix the air more effectively and make those rooms more evenly comforted.

9. Keep Hot and Cold Air Moving by Preventing Airflow Restrictions

Remove hot and cold air spots by taking a look at your ductwork.  It might be under the house or in the attic.  If you can see your ductwork, you will be able to determine if it’s delivering the air efficiently.  If the ductwork is sagging or kinked, it won’t deliver the air properly.  Each duct has a finite amount of air it can deliver appropriately.  Making sure it is installed correctly is a great way to keep your house evenly conditioned.

10. Prevent Hot and Cold Spots by Checking Insulation Levels

You can also control hot and cold spots by paying attention to insulation.  Attic insulations levels can greatly impact how quickly that hot or cold air infiltrates through the ceiling into your room.  Sometimes various service professionals will need to work up there.  In the process, they may matte down some of your insulation, making it less effective.  If there is not enough insulation over one room or the other, this will create hot or cold spots.  These reduce your comfort level in those rooms.  By blowing in some more insulation, you can make your whole house more comfortable to be in.

11. Properly Sized Ductwork Improves HVAC Efficiency

The size of your HVAC system as well as the right size duct system to deliver that air evenly are both crucial to your comfort.  This isn’t the easiest thing to figure for most DIY’ers.  An hvac professional can help you determine what size duct is needed for each room.  A system of supply and return ducts running every which way can be confusing.  Making the right decisions with your ductwork will make your HVAC system more efficient and comfortable for your home.  This will eliminate hot and cold spots in your home

Summary

Let Fox Family come out and take a look at what can be done to make your home more comfortable if you’re experiencing hot or cold spots.  Making your system as efficient and effective as possible will certainly add to your quality of life.

Thanks so much for stopping by, and we’ll see you on the next blog post!

Don’t miss our videos on related topics:

How To Protect an Air Conditioner Low Voltage Wire

How to Repair An Air Conditioner

Protecting the Low Voltage Wires to the AC

That brown-sheathed, low voltage wire from the air handler to the AC unit outside tells the contractor when to engage. This allows the high voltage to pass from one side of the contractor to the other, flowing on to the compressor and condenser fan motor.  Without this low 24 volt communication, the AC won’t start.  So, shouldn’t we protect those low voltages wires to the AC from potential damage and UV rays?  Doesn’t the electrical code    require some sort of conduit with wiring outside the house?  That’s what we’re going to talk about today on Fox Family Heating, Air Conditioning and Solar.

Ratings for Low Voltage Wire

I’ve never heard of any low voltage wire that’s rated for outdoors, including wet or damp conditions being used in residential heating and air conditioning.  When I service equipment and go on HVAC inspections around the Sacramento area, why do I find dried up, brittle sections of thermostat wire?  They’re simply taped to the suction line from the wall to the AC.

I spent hours researching this online. I’m having the hardest time finding the appropriate citation in the National or California Electrical Code.  The citation in question describes when to protect the low voltage wire in outdoor conditions, such as with an air conditioner installation.  If you ARE aware of the part of the book that talks about this topic, please let me know in the comments section down below.  As always, I admit, I don’t know all the answers, but I’d really like to know if you wouldn’t mind sharing.

What the Code Says

Article 725 of the National Electrical Code talks about this type of control wiring.  But I can’t find anything stating that Class 2 wire (as in the 24 volt thermostat wire used in residential HVAC) must be protected by or enclosed in conduit.

On one hand, the stat wire is not rated for outdoor use, let alone in wet or damp conditions which leaves it exposed to damaging elements.  Possible hazards are endless.  Landscapers who use weed eaters, a dog’s incessant need to chew up things in the yard, the ultraviolet rays coming from the sun, the list is long.

On the other hand, installing stat wire inside the liquid-tight conduit really doesn’t make it a dry environment either.  A dry environment isn’t even needed for class 2 wiring anyway, according to what I’ve found (and not found) in my research.

Protecting the Low Voltage AC Wire

Ever since my first HVAC installation, protecting the stat wire with ½” seal-tight conduit was a must.  My foreman insisted, so I’ve always taught my techs to do the same.  It undeniably protects the wire better than just strapping it to the suction line without seal-tight, exposed to the elements.  Ensuring stat wire lasts as long as the AC is also in the best interest of the customer.

If the stat wire dries up and becomes dry and brittle, it takes almost nothing to expose the bare wire within the sheathing.  This can result in the wrong wires touching each other. This shorts out the low voltage system, rendering it inoperable.  This requires the homeowner to call a service technician to come out to troubleshoot and fix the issue.

But it’s not in the code books.  So when I see newly built residential neighborhoods with exposed stat wire at the AC, I cringe.  But I have to remind myself it’s not actually required.

The Tightest Provision Gets Enforced

If it’s not required, why do so many inspectors write up correction letters to us for not protecting the stat wire with some sort of conduit?  The answer may be, “that’s the way they want it.”  Remember, local jurisdictions can tighten the rules as they deem necessary.  And the tightest provision of any code is the one that gets enforced.

If you really wanted to push the issue, you could ask the code inspector (nicely) where you could find the source of their local rules; one that lists their requirements which are more restrictive than the National Electric Code.

I get that there ARE several sections in the code book that say wiring must be protected from potential damage.  But it never mentions it specifically when it comes to Class 2 control wiring.

A Wiring Upgrade

Consider what it would take to better protect your customer’s low voltage wiring to the AC.  It doesn’t require too much work.  The cost of the parts is minimal compared to the future protection you’re providing to the stat wire.

Remove the old dried up stat wire from the suction line insulation.  Cutting it back to about six inches from the wall will allow you to splice on new wiring.  Once it’s run through the conduit, wire nutted and taped for protection, leave a bit of the colored wires there.  A future technician will thank you.  A quick search back to your splice will easily reveal the connected wires.  This will give them the option of using that third wire as an alternate.

Shove the wire nuts into the penetration of the wall where it comes out.  Then slip the new wire through the conduit.  Fasten the conduit to the unit.  Then strap it to the rest of the lineset and high voltage conduit going to the AC.  This neat and clean workmanship of your repair IS required by the electrical code.

Looking Ahead

The next time you see exposed thermostat wire coming from the wall to the AC, think about what’s right for your customer.  If you’re a homeowner, it shouldn’t be too expensive to have your local HVAC company do this work on your system.

As always, whether dealing with high or low voltage electricity, there are inherent dangers and mechanical failures that can happen.  So, let’s leave it to the professionals.

Once again, I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic, so leave a comment down below.

Thanks so much for stopping by and we’ll see you on the next blog topic!